Richmond Hill trial: Shirley's front door may have had Bob Leonard's DNA

Bob Leonard (file photo)
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The front door to Monserrate Shirley's home may have held traces of Bob Leonard's DNA.

When Lisa Liebig was first called to the scene, her only tasks on that first day were processing the front door and glass storm door from Shirley's home. During cross-examination Tuesday afternoon, Liebig told defense attorneys that part of that process included collecting samples to be tested for DNA.

She made it clear that while she collected those samples, they were sent off for testing by another technician and the results were not sent back to her, which is common. After prompting from the defense attorney, she did say that she heard the tests did get a hit, and the match was to Bob Leonard, Mark Leonard's half-brother and accused co-conspirator.

Cross-examination begins

Liebig compared the destruction at the scene of the explosion to that found in hurricane or tornado aftermath.

"It was surreal," she said.

The defense then moved into questions regarding chain of custody and when (or if) testing was done on various key pieces of evidence, including the microwave from Shirley's home and the canister prosecutors say was used to cause the explosion. In each case, Liebig said any testing that was performed happened outside of her custody so she couldn't comment further on the matter (the microwave was sent to the ATF lab after she was done with it and the canister was tested before it was sent to her).

Attorneys moved on to asking about gas cans that were found on the scene. While Liebig said that they had a liquid inside of them, it was never tested to confirm that liquid was gasoline. Further, while items of evidence that could potentially be hazardous or flammable are typically sealed inside canisters meant to ensure they don't ignite, the gas cans were not. Liebig said that was because they didn't have canisters large enough to house the gas cans in question.

The defense then returned to the canister prosecutors say Leonard and his co-conspirators used to ignite the explosion. Attorneys asked if it had been placed into a container like other potentially hazardous or flammable pieces of evidence, and Liebig said it had not.

In addition to house debris, crime scene investigators also collected 7-8 computers, including tablets. Liebig said some of those were requested by IMPD's cyber-crimes division for forensic analysis but she did not know anything about what may have been found during those tests.

More pieces of the puzzle

Exhibits brought up during Liebig's afternoon testimony were more of what we've seen over the past day and a half - examples of debris ranging from charred electronics to duct work, license plates to a key chain with a Muppets character on it.

Some of the bigger items of note were the actual gas pipes taken from neighbors' homes with the shutoff valve and regulator still in place. Investigators claim both the valve and regulator were removed from the gas pipes in Shirley's home. Jurors also saw pictures of a thermostat and instruction manuals, which investigators claim Leonard used in a previous, unsuccessful attempt to destroy the home.

Excluding recesses, Liebig spent roughly 9 hours total testifying yesterday and today.

All told, approximately 700 exhibits were entered into evidence today alone. Around 1,700 pieces of evidence have been put on the record over the course of the trial to date. While a tedious process, prosecutors moved quickly, going through around 100 pieces of evidence for every 45 minutes of testimony today.

Prosecutors have referred to their case as a complicated jigsaw puzzle that must be carefully pieced together for jurors. If that's the case, Liebig's part seems to have been opening the box and dumping the pieces out for jurors to see; expert witnesses will be called in next to better explain the significance of each of those pieces and start putting them together so jurors can see the final picture.

"Git er done"

Dr. David Sheppard, the State's expert witness who changed his calculations on how much natural gas flowed into Monserrate Shirley's home leading up to the explosion, was supposed to be deposed by attorneys last night on what those changes were. Severe weather delayed his arrival, though, and other technical issues delaying him further. Attorneys wound up not deposing him last night, so the evidentiary hearing originally slated for 9:30 this morning was moved to tomorrow morning. He is scheduled to take the stand Thursday.

Defense attorneys agreed to this updated plan.

Judge John Marnocha took the opportunity to air his own grievances about scheduling surrounding this trial. He said he has effectively cleared his schedule until the week of July 20, at which point he already has an excess of 30 morning hearings to get through, and that number will only grow. He also has a backlog of 24 jury trials that will start the week of August 3.

With both the prosecution and defense team having multiple attorneys and support staff assigned to this trial, he said there was no excuse for Dr. Sheppard not to have been deposed before now. Between the three-day weekend we just wrapped up by not hearing testimony Friday, and what he called "a largely non-controversial witness" (Liebig) testifying for hours at a time yesterday and today, he said each team could have sacrificed one attorney to depose him over the past few days instead of making the court wait by delaying some witnesses from taking the stand so Sheppard could be deposed now.

"Every day that goes by, we have a risk of losing a juror [because of their own scheduling demands, needing to get back to work]. I will not let us get into a situation where we are four weeks into the trial and I have to declare a mistrial because we don't have enough jurors....It's time to 'get er done' - on your time, not ours."

Looking ahead

With Liebig's testimony finally complete, prosecutors plan to start putting together some of these pieces of their puzzle. They will still be working on the origin and cause of the fire, but now using crime lab technicians as well as information from the independent labs that did testing for the case.

Testimony will begin at 10:00 a.m. Hearings regarding Dr. Sheppard's changed calculations could begin as early at 9:00.

Case background

Mark Leonard, 46, is accused of leading a five-person plot to destroy Shirley's home to cash in on a $300,000 insurance policy. The explosion killed neighbors Dion and Jennifer Longworth and decimated the Richmond Hill neighborhood, damaging or destroying more than 100 homes and killing two neighbors.

Shirley, his girlfriend at the time, will testify against him in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Leonard faces 46 counts of arson, two counts of conspiracy to commit arson and one count of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. Leonard's half-brother Bob Leonard is also accused in the plot, along with two others.

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